I love the concept of learning through play. It is something that defines my philosophy of working with children. But the trick to making learning through play work for you is that you have to be strategic and have a plan. That’s why the method I describe below for teaching letters is the best way to teach alphabet recognition…and make it stick!

This will help your child learn their letters and then actually start applying their knowledge by reading books. It’s all about those words isn’t it? After devouring this post, you will:

  • know why you need to be strategic about teaching alphabet recognition
  • understand the difference between exposure and focused teaching
  • learn the signs that your child is ready to learn the alphabet
  • get my steps for the best way to teach alphabet recognition and some alphabet activities that promote learning through play
bright abc foam letters

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Why You Need to Know about the Best Way to Teach Alphabet Recognition

So why exactly should you care about my best way to teach alphabet recognition?

Learning the alphabet through play takes some planning on your part. You can’t just have your child play different games alphabet games like scooping magnetic letters out of a sensory bin and expect them to magically learn the alphabet through osmosis.

It’s a really nice thought, but that’s not how it works.

However, those types of activities CAN and WILL help your child in the beginning stages of learning the alphabet because they are a key to exposing your child to the different letters in the alphabet.

These types of exposure alphabet activities are also way more effective when you are involved in them too. You see, when you are involved in play and narrating/labeling letters and sounds for your child, they are more likely to retain that knowledge (especially if it’s something they are hearing over and over again).

To be strategic with the alphabet, you first need to use exposure during play to your advantage (which we will talk more about in a minute). But there is a critical piece of the puzzle that is missing when using just exposure.

To truly have success with alphabet recognition, you also need to add focused teaching alongside your exposure play.

young girl looking through magnifying glass

The Difference between Natural Exposure and Focused Teaching

To give you a little bit of background, I wanted to briefly share the difference between natural exposure of the letters in the alphabet versus focused teaching of those letters.

Natural exposure is just how it sounds. It involves creating a literacy-rich environment for your child where they consistently see the alphabet and different types of print in their home environment.

When children see print consistently, they will first understand that it is valuable to the family and that it holds some sort of meaning. It will also pique their curiosity because they see family members interacting with it and will want to interact with it too. This is what makes exposure so powerful!

When you are focused teaching the alphabet, you are explicitly teaching a letter and sound to your child with the intention that they will remember it. Focused, explicit teaching is a great step to take if your child is showing signs they are ready to learn the alphabet.

How Do You Know if Your Child is Ready for Focused Teaching?

But, how do you know if your child is ready? I go into depth on this topic here, but you can tell your child is ready when you see these signs:

  • They show interest in letters and books
  • Your child is eagerly labeling items in their environment
  • They have an understanding that their name is represented by symbols
young female teacher showing young boy the letter a on a clipboard
Speech therapist teaches the boys to say the letter A

These are very beginner signs that your child may be ready to start explicitly learning the letters of the alphabet. You will want to take it slow and follow your child’s lead.

The Best Way to Teach Alphabet Recognition

First and foremost, learning through play is a cornerstone of my best way to teach alphabet recognition.

You need to ensure that you are incorporating play to keep that print motivation high. Let’s dive into the specifics of alphabet recognition and how to keep those letters sticky in your child’s brain.

Exposure

I’ve talked about this a little bit already, but exposure plays a key role in your child’s ability to learn and retain letters.

With exposure, you are incorporating opportunities for letters to become a part of your child’s existing play. Even if you are starting a more focused approach to teaching letters, exposure is still important.

The point is that you always want to be surrounding your child with letters even if it isn’t one that you have explicitly taught them yet. The more they see letters around them, the more those letters will become a part of their daily routine, environment, and vocabulary.

Incorporating Practice and Review into Play

So after you have introduced a letter (<—-read this!) you need a way to keep the letters you’ve taught your child sticky in their brain so that they can start applying what they’re learning.

Every day, take some time to go through your letter keycard stack of the letters your child has already learned. Use sensory materials such as shaving cream, hair gel, etc to have your child “trace” the letter as they say the letter name and letter sound.

letter keycards of the letters s, p, t, and a on a wooden table; best way to teach alphabet recognition

So as you hold up the keycard for S, your child might say: “S, /s/, sock” while “writing” that letter in shaving cream.

The multisensory aspect is critical when learning the alphabet. This is what will help your child transfer what they’re learning to their long-term memory.

Simple Alphabet Activities that Support Alphabet Recognition

It’s important that as you teach new letters, you take the time to review all of the letters you have previously taught. These games will have your child ready to go when it comes to alphabet recognition!

Simple Hide the Keycard

This is a very simple game where you hide the keycards for the letters that you have already taught. Have your child look around your home to find the keycards that you have hidden.

The most important part of this game is to have them share the letter name, letter sound, and keyword with you every time they find a card.

keycards of the letter  p and a hidden on shelves; hide keycards in easy to reach places; best way to teach alphabet recognition

This game gets your child up and moving so it is a great one for active little bodies. If you want a challenge, have your child try to make words using the letters that they have found. See how many words your child can make!

Letter Twister

Use painters’ tape, letter cards, chalk, or whatever you think of to create a letter review board on the floor. Only put letters that you have already taught out on the floor as a review.

blue painters tape on a tile floor in the shape of the letters s, p, t, and a; letter twister: start with just one of each review letter

Call out a letter and a body part so that your child will put their body part on the letter you called just like in twister. Since many children are still working on directionality (right and left), you can just choose any body part to help build vocabulary.

This might sound like, “Put your toes on the letter s. Put your nose on the letter that makes the sound /t/.”

Get creative and have fun!

Post-It Keycard Match

For this game, you will tape your keycards that you are reviewing to a wall in your home. Spread them out around your home as much as possible to provide as much movement as possible. Grab some post-its and write down the letters that you have been reviewing. When first starting out, you can put both uppercase and lowercase letters on a post-it. As your child progresses only put one of each on an individual post-it.

keycards of letters a and t taped on a wall. Pink post-its with letters on the spread out on the floor for a post-it keycard match; best way to teach alphabet recognition

If you are feeling creative, try drawing some simple pictures too!

Hand your child the stack of post-its and have them stick each post-it on the correct keycard. As they go to place each post-it on the keycard, you can ask them questions like, “What letter is that? What is that a picture of? What sound does that letter make?

Check out some more alphabet activities that will help those letters stick on your little one’s brain.

Practice, Practice, Practice

So there you have it…the best way to teach alphabet recognition.

young boy in red glasses holding colorful books. Letters appear in an arch around him.

You always want to expose your child to letters as much as possible and as early as possible so that they have an opportunity to interact with those letters before you expect them to know them. Even as you are teaching, exposure is still an important piece to this puzzle.

In addition to that exposure, take the time to explicitly teach your child each letter and review and practice each letter through play like in the games I shared above.

What are some of your favorite ways to review letters and teach alphabet recognition? Drop them in the comments below!